FourFourTwo's 100 Best Football Players in the World 2018
60. Gareth Bale (Real Madrid)
Plagued by injuries for much of his Real Madrid career, Bale is the quintessential riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.
Despite Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure and that overhead kick in the Champions League final, the Welshman is yet to assume CR7’s throne at the Bernabeu. For all the doubts – and there are plenty in Spain – you can’t doubt Bale’s ability, a pure modern footballer who boasts outstanding physical and technical attributes.
That combination will always make him a problem for opponents, and as Real Madrid enter a new post-Zidane era, Bale will never have a better opportunity write his own Blanco legacy. Here’s to a much better 2019. – David Cartlidge
EXCLUSIVE Bale: I should have won the Puskas Award
59. Lucas Hernandez (Atletico Madrid)
Has there been a better low-profile player than Hernandez over the past 12 months? Not content with helping Atletico Madrid clinch the Europa League in May against Marseille – the city where he was born – he then kept the more widely-feted Benjamin Mendy out of France’s World Cup-winning side and ended up as most observers' pick as the tournament’s best left-back.
Defensively diligent and more dynamic in possession that many give him credit for, the 22-year-old has taken significant strides towards being a worthy successor to France greats Manuel Amoros and Bixente Lizarazu in his position. – James Eastham
58. Toni Kroos (Real Madrid)
Kroos has never been a playmaker to be flustered, but he hardly covered himself in glory last summer for a hapless German side that crashed out in the World Cup group stage.
There was a phenomenal game-saving rocket against Sweden which looked to have tipped the scales in Die Mannschaft’s favour, but otherwise Kroos was as guilty as everyone else around him in his country’s botched trophy defence.
At least he still sets the standard for his club. Kroos isn’t as deadly from set-pieces as in previous campaigns, and is generally outshone by Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modric, but still helps to ensure that Los Blancos boast a classy engine room capable of going toe-to-toe with the world’s best. He turns 29 in early January and, though his style lends itself to elite-level performance for many years to come, must arrest Madrid’s alarming decline in the second half of 2018/19. – Simon Harrison
57. Jorginho (Chelsea)
Maurizio Sarri was restricted to just a single permanent outfield signing in his first transfer window as Chelsea manager, but there’s probably no one he would have wanted more than Jorginho. OK, apart from Lionel Messi.
The Italian metronome was the man who made things tick for Sarri at Napoli, starting 33 Serie A games in 2017/18 as the Partenopei pushed Juventus all the way in the title race.
It hasn’t taken long for Jorginho to become the Premier League’s most prolific passer – managing 180 of them in a goalless draw at West Ham in September – following his £43m transfer. A deep-lying playmaker who sets the tempo of his team’s attacks, the former Verona man rarely gives possession away. – Greg Lea
56. Mario Mandzukic (Juventus)
It’s been quite a year for Mandzukic. The striker has won a league-and-cup double with Juventus, scored in a World Cup final for Croatia and secured his place in a new attacking trident alongside Paulo Dybala and Cristiano Ronaldo.
He’s got off to a flyer this season too, equalling his (admittedly paltry) tally from last term with five goals by mid-November. Goals don’t tell the whole story with Mandzukic, though, and never have; there’s a reason he’s stayed at the top in Germany, Spain and Italy without ever breaking the 20-goal barrier.
The 32-year-old’s phenomenal work rate, tactical flexibility and professionalism make him a coach’s dream. Massimiliano Allegri has recognised his tactical importance too, with the Croatian’s selfless link-up play helping those around him flourish. A near-psychotic will to win helps, too. – Alasdair Mackenzie
55. Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich)
One of the most technically sound players in the Bundesliga, if not Europe, Kimmich’s biggest problem is that head coaches don’t know where to play him.
Last season, at right-back, he managed double figures in assists for the first time in his career, reminding everyone just how devastatingly good he is at whipping the ball into the box. In the same position at the World Cup in Russia, however, the 23-year-old’s positioning was all over the place.
Since then, his play has suffered from collective crises at Bayern Munich and with Germany. His talent is undeniable, but the next year will decide just how good he will be. And in which position, with Niko Kovac increasingly reverting Kimmich to the midfield role afford him by Pep Guardiola. – Jonathan Harding
54. Fernandinho (Manchester City)
Fernandinho continues to get better with age, and although the plaudits invariably go elsewhere at the Etihad, he is as important to Manchester City’s cause as any of his team-mates.
The Brazilian made 34 appearances as Pep Guardiola’s centurions won the Premier League title in style, and he’s been ever-present so far this season despite turning 33 in May.
A tremendous reader of the game who expertly breaks up play and halts opposition counters in front of the back four, the former Shakhtar Donetsk man is also an excellent passer who helps construct City’s attacks from deep. In short, he can do everything. – Greg Lea
53. Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli)
The memory of Napoli’s homegrown hero scoring a late Champions League winner at the San Paolo might make Liverpool fans shudder, but the Reds – despite eventually going through at the Partonopei’s expense – were far from the only team to suffer at the 27-year-old’s feet.
A month later, he sent a penalty past Gianluigi Buffon during a 1-1 draw with Paris Saint-Germain to become the first Italian to score in five consecutive home games in the competition.
Carlo Ancelotti’s decision to move the Italy international from the wing to a central striker role in his 4-4-2 promises to be rewarded with Insigne’s most prolific season yet. He already has seven league goals to his name – just one fewer than he managed all of last season. – Alasdair Mackenzie
52. Bernardo Silva (Manchester City)
Manchester City have barely missed Kevin De Bruyne in the opening months of 2018/19, which is largely due to Bernardo’s brilliant form.
The Portuguese was a peripheral figure last season – although he still made 35 Premier League appearances and chipped in with six goals and four assists – but has arguably been City’s standout performer in the first half of the current campaign.
Though regularly used on the right at Monaco, Bernardo has always looked most comfortable in a central role, excelling with his exemplary touch, intelligence and creativity to such an extent there’s been no need to talk about Kevin. – Greg Lea
51. Sergio Busquets (Barcelona)
Yes, he’s arguably still the best player in his position, but there have been signs that Busquets’ prodigious powers are on the wane in 2018. Poor at the World Cup – admittedly, he’s not alone among Spaniards there – the midfield anchor also started the current La Liga campaign slowly.
There are, however, signs of an Indian summer for Busquets, thanks to Barça new boy Arthur. A carbon copy of Xavi, the Brazilian’s metronomic passing should allow ‘Busi’ to focus on the dark arts at which he still excels. Throw in the highly rated Carles Alena to give the 30-year-old an occasional breather and 2019 could well be a year of resurgence for Busquets. – Andrew Murray